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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Brainiacs by default

A young guy casually said to me the other day, "Smart is what you settle for when you're too much of a wimp to be macho. Seriously, all those guys back in high school who prided themselves on their brains, they were all wusses. If any of them had been tough, or strong, or even good-looking, they would never have positioned themselves as brains.

"Plus, most of them aren't actually any smarter than anybody else. Talk to them and you find they're not  witty, or charming, or quick on their feet. You'll also find that most of them have no real intellectual interests, and no original way of looking at things. They're just grinds.

"They're nerds because they have no choice."

I'd never thought of it in quite those terms before, but once the young man said it, I realized he was right.


Mark Caplan said...

An article in the New Criterion magazine says manliness was once "defined in terms of being intelligent, socially graceful, handsome and morally upright." College fraternities were organized to cultivate and refine intellectual pursuits and to strengthen moral conduct. The article tries to explain what went wrong. It didn't happen overnight.

"On Fraternities & Manliness"

John Craig said...

Mark --
Interesting article, thanks. But I think what the author was describing was not so much the changing of the definition of "manliness" so much as the lessening of the importance of "gentlemanliness" and the increasing acceptance and even approval of machismo in its worst forms.

Hence the advent of hazing rituals, excessive drinking, and boasting about sexual exploits among the fraternities.

What the young man I was talking to was referring to was not those things, but true physical courage, athleticism, strength, and appearance, which have always been valued -- even going back to the time of the ancient Greeks (not Greek fraternities).

He was also talking about how the crew who cast themselves as "brainiacs" in high school can rarely think for themselves.

Mike said...

Interesting, John. I read the following, and thought, this would be right up his alley.

Then I got to your blog, and saw the current conversation....

John Craig said...

Mike --
Thank you. I'd heard of that article (Heartiste said it confirmed his basic view of things) but hadn't read it before. I think the author is right, although I think he missed one crucial point: the REASON bullies (often sociopaths) get their way in group situations is because people are afraid to cross them, because they instinctively sense how uninhibitedly vindictive sociopaths are, and don't want to get on their bad side.

Anyway, it's all true, but that's not really what the young man I was talking to was talking about. when he said "macho," and "tough," he meant tough in a willing-to-take-pain, good-in-a-fist- fight, willing-to-put-onself-in=persona-danger sort of way. He wasn't talking about being bullying.

Mike said...

Here's the quote that I find pretty interesting from the article:

The distinction that needs to be made is this: Jerks, narcissists, and takers engage in behaviors to satisfy their own ego, not to benefit the group. Disagreeable givers aren’t getting off on being tough; they’re doing it to further a purpose.

"Disagreeable Givers" is defined in the text, of course

Mike said...

Just read your comment, John, and, I see the point you (and the young man) are making. There can be a certain "intellectual poser" type of person who is constantly having an "out of body" experience when self- assessing interpersonally, in real time. Instead of just giving someone the finger.... and moving on.

John Craig said...

Mike --
I completely agree with the author's premise, and I think anybody who has ever worked for a corporation would as well.

I worked at Goldman Sachs for 12 years, and one of the things they try to inculcate you with when you get there is how teamwork is prized above all else at Goldman, and teamwork is how you get ahead. But in my department, and every other department I saw, it was exactly the opposite: it was the narcissistic personalities, and often even sociopaths, who did the best there. I have to imagine all the other Wall Street firms were pretty much similar in terms of their snake pit atmosphere. And if you look at the CEO's of major corporations, an overwhelming number of them are narcissists if not sociopaths.

Steven said...

Among teenage boys and groups of young men, being macho is what gets you social rank, respect and females. Hot girls generally don't go for geeks. So basically if you can pull off macho, you will do so because it comes with the rewards we are hardwired to value and enjoy- social acceptance, status and sex. Plus if you have the biochemistry to be the macho type, acting that way will just come naturally to you. You will just naturally seek or attain dominance.

Your intelligence will be secondary and not a prominent part of your identity or public image. You may even seek to play it down, thinking it uncool. (Why is it considered uncool? Maybe because high t types have a tendency to challenge authority and don't play by the rules so in macho culture, diligence in school will be frowned upon.)

As for Geeks, I think there are correlations between IQ & low t and IQ & aspergers, so some of those typical socially awkward wimpy nerds really are high IQ braniac types. There's a real basis for that association.

On the other hand, there must be some average kids who get labelled as nerds because of the way they look.This probably happens to them as much as by them. But there is a rationale for them to take that identity: they are omegas in terms of social rank and power in the teenage boy realm but they have an ego so they need to find another positive identity, another way to tell themselves they are above average or superior. Brainy does the job.

This animalistic logic I think most applies to high school. When the geek types grow up, they are no longer forced into a social group with other random males, can find similar people to spend their time with untroubled, they have other avenues to success and status etc.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I"m not so sure there is a positive correlation between low T and high IQ, and I'm also not sure of the correlation between high IQ and Aspergers. I've read (I forget where) that the image of high IQ types as being geeks is a myth, that if anything high IQ types are more likely to be strong and healthy.

And I think the young man's point was that a lot of the high school kids who pose as intellectuals are anything but: they are merely grade grubbers with hardly an original thought in their brains.

Steven said...

I don't really remember high school kids who posed as intellectuals. Maybe in the upper middle class world its more common. But I was basically agreeing with 'the young man' and analyzing why it is so.

The IQ correlations are something to look into I guess.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I realize you were agreeing, and I agree with what you said other than those correlations. I probably used the wrong word when I said those high school kids posed as intellectuals, it was probably more that they prided themselves on being "brains," when in fact they weren't all that smart.

Steven said...

Okay. I get the impression in American high schools, kids are put in identity boxes like jock and geek and so on, all these little subcultures. Maybe its just American movies that exaggerate this but it wasn't really like that in my school. There weren't really those ready made definite identities.

Pus we were divided into 8 classes by ability so you couldn't pose as a braniac if you were in an average of low class. It just wouldn't work. And honestly, its unlikely anyone could have made it into the highest class without a high IQ.

John Craig said...

Steven --
That's true, there's more social stereotyping in American high schools, though the movies exaggerate it.

Hadn't realized British schools were stratified that way.

Steven said...

That's just how my school was. We had 8 classes but you were in that class for every subject. Other schools had sets for individual subjects. streams vs sets I think.

When my dad was a kid, you actually had separate schools for the brightest kids (grammar schools) and that was the track to university.

Liberal policies have moved education away from selection by ability.